Mountains, Marmots, and Meadows: A Guide to Cascadian Creatures in Heaven

Mountains, Marmots, and Meadows: A Guide to Cascadian Creatures in Heaven

Written by Isabelle Vander Stoep / [email protected]

Most of the year, Mount Rainier is a sleeping giant with a blanket of snow and a pillow of clouds.

In the ephemeral late summer, the mountain reminds us that it is teeming with life. Especially in Paradise, visitors can get the full scope of the ecosystem.

Take the hike to Reflection Lakes, for example. Beginning at Paradise Inn, hikers pass squirrels and crows as they climb toward the meadows. The path begins, passing through the marmot and the pika. If it’s not a busy morning, there may be black bears.

Going down the tree line, guests can see the abundant birds. In the low fields, deer chew grass. Snakes basking in the sun hear hikers approaching and slithering away.

If there’s no mountain behind them and pristine alpine lakes to experience, adventurers can spend an entire visit to Mount Rainier National Park just observing the creatures.

For those who think this sounds fun, here’s a guide to experiencing some of the Cascadian creatures in Paradise, compiled with information from the park’s website.

Starting small but racy, the American pika is likely the most commonly heard creature on the trails in paradise. According to the park’s website, more than 900 individual pikas have been found around Rainier since 2007.

About the size of a large mouse, the pika is not technically a rodent, but rather belongs to the same family as rabbits. They nest in rocks and dig tunnels beneath them to store food. Visitors are more likely to hear the high-pitched shriek of a pika than to see the still-adorable little creatures.

Then, badger.

The fluffy badger is very common in the subalpine regions of North America. During September, hikers can see them stain their cheeks purple with blueberries. Since creatures the size of a house cat go into hibernation, they spend the fall fattening. When they are not eating, they often enjoy the sun on the rocks. Looks like a good life.

Like the pika, the marmot’s sound is alarming, much like a whistle. This indicates to others in their colony that there is something dangerous nearby.

While pikas and marmots are often prey for birds of prey and larger creatures, the mountain goat is a rainy native that young animals can trust.

Because of their shaggy hair, mountain goats live at high altitudes all year round. Amazing climbers, they often defy gravity on cliffsides. They are herbivores, standing on moss, grass, and shrubs, much like the other ungulates in the park, elk and deer.

Black-tailed deer are found throughout the park and are most active near dawn and dusk. Elk at higher elevations are difficult to find during the fall as they make their way down the mountain, but they can be easily found in the lower mountain towns of Ashford, Rundle or Packwood.

During late summer, black bears make their way up the mountain to hibernate as they relentlessly feed on berries and leftover camp food. Guests should always keep smelly items in bear enclosures and dispose of all trash and extra food to avoid attracting bears when camping or backpacking.

Besides bees, butterflies, snakes, and birds, the creatures of Mount Rainier look endless during early fall, and a visit is worthwhile. Park rangers use citizen-reported data to study the well-being of mountain life sensitive to climate change.

To report an object seen in the park, visit https://arcg.is/rLOiy. For more information on Rainier’s flora and fauna, head to https://www.nps.gov/mora/learn/nature/index.htm.


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